TORONTO — Chef Michael Angeloni spent almost six months developing the buttermilk fried chicken recipe for Union Chicken.
The chicken-focused restaurant opened its first location at Sherway Gardens in February after plans to open in Union Station were delayed.
Union Chicken was developed by Toronto restaurateur Yannick Bigourdan (Carbon Bar) who brought on three operating partners: Angeloni (Grand Electric and Splendido), Adam Teolis and Dan Kennedy.
At Union Chicken, diners can watch their bird cook on a ClayOven Churrasco, a Brazilian-style rotisserie.
He sources organic, free-range birds raised on Ontario farms. Angeloni selects birds that are about 2.2 to 2.4 pounds in size.
“I just found the flavour in them was a lot better; when they get too big, they’re kind of watery and not packed with that nice chicken flavour,” he said.
Before they hit the spit, chickens are salted, steamed and marinated in a house rub for 48 hours. They are served with a charred lemon and sauce made from fat drippings.
The buttermilk fried chicken is served with hot sauce, honey-maple syrup and gravy.
“Our fried chicken, I spent months and months trying and trying until I got a recipe I really loved,” said Angeloni, noting it’s battered in batches throughout the day.
While the meat should sit in the batter for at least 10 minutes and can sit for up to an hour, Angeloni wants to ensure they aren’t wasting product.
“I’m willing to pay somebody to stand in the back and prep fried chicken all day, which is basically what we have, if it means we have the best quality chicken that we can,” he said.
With a focus on a single protein, the sharing-style menu offers a selection of vegetable sides, such as crispy Brussels sprouts, rotisserie sweet potato and smashed and fried potatoes.
“When it came to the sides, I really wanted to keep them all vegetarian or at least predominantly vegetarian,” Angeloni said.
Kennedy said the Union Station plans are still in the works and construction is slated to start when Union Chicken takes possession of the space.
“It’s an amazing location and such an iconic building; we definitely want to be there,” he said.
There are plans to open multiple corporate-run restaurants — between two and three a year — each with unique elements, Kennedy said.
“Where we want to be consistent is our food quality, our vibe, the steps of service and standards, but we want the look and feel to be a little bit different in each one so people don’t feel it’s the same experience over and over again,” he said.
In addition to Union Station, another location is in the works. The plan is to grow slowly and avoid over-extension — Kennedy doesn’t expect to open a Union Chicken on every corner. “Because of the concept, I think we want to be careful; I think it would lose its uniqueness,” he said. “By going organic, it changes the price point a little bit and it puts us in a category that may not work in every neighbourhood.”
Kennedy, Angeloni and Teolis are in the kitchen and on the floor, managing day-to-day operations. As the company grows, the plan is for them to move to the new store and promote managers from within.
“We need to grow at a pace that makes sense for us,” Kennedy said.
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